PITTSBURGH -- Martavis Bryant is the 29th-ranked receiver in ESPN's current fantasy football rankings and projections, which undersells his enormous potential.
That potential has gone partially unfulfilled early this season as the Pittsburgh Steelers' passing game struggles to find its footing and Bryant finds his way after missing all of 2016 to suspension. Bryant's average of 40.8 receiving yards per game is nearly 30 yards lower than it was in 2015.
Coach Mike Tomlin has been clear that Bryant faced a steep climb to shake off rust, but Bryant won't take that crutch.
In fact, he believes he's close to the explosion many expected to start the year.
"I know I'm not producing like I did two years ago," said Bryant after Wednesday's practice in preparation for the Steelers' trip to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. "But it's gonna come. I'm not running from it. Just trying to get better and learn from it."
Why does he sense better things to come? Bryant doesn't feel much different from the playmaker who registered 15 touchdowns in the first 21 games of his career. He believes he's still the lanky, athletic playmaker who can break free early and often, and he feels just as fast and strong as before.
The Steelers have worked hard to try to spring Bryant, targeting him 31 times, only nine fewer than star receiver Antonio Brown. The timing between Bryant and Roethlisberger has been slightly off, resulting in just 15 receptions and one touchdown.
After trying a bit of everything, the two have to crack the code eventually, Bryant figures, especially when creating the right matchup.
For example, in Pittsburgh's 30-9 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the Steelers used Bryant on several crossing routes and screens, but the Jaguars held him to 21 yards on five catches. Bryant has gotten free downfield at times, but he and Roethlisberger have connected on just one true deep ball this season, though they drew pass interference on another. The law of averages says more deep completions will come.
Bryant isn't about to start overthinking. He's in a good place since getting sober and returning from a 16-game suspension for multiple drug offenses. The work will translate on the field, he believes.
"Everybody wants to be great. ... I came a long way, one of the first three people to come back from being suspended [for a year]," Bryant said. "I'm just happy to be back in the process, getting better. I think we're very close. It's gonna happen, man. Just gotta be patient. I'm not slowing down for anything else."
Roethlisberger says he'll let the Kansas City defense dictate where to throw the ball. If the running game gets going early, and if Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters shadows Brown, Bryant should get a few opportunities.
Roethlisberger sees things simply: Quarterback plays well, receivers play well.
"We've got a lot of guys who can make plays for us," Roethlisberger said. "We've just got to make them."